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Volunteering and Retirement
Written By : Dee Cascio 
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"Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich." Sarah Bernhardt

Volunteers, who make a difference every day, are the unsung heroes of our communities and nation. Volunteers have rebuilt neighborhoods, fed the poor, won elections, and clothed the homeless. How many of you have wanted to help a child learn how to read, wrap gifts for less fortunate families at your local church during the Christmas season, work at a soup kitchen, or collect winter coats for the homeless? Our communities abound with opportunities to give back, but how many of us answer the call?

How Will You Answer The Call To Service?

"Volunteers don't necessarily have the time; they just have the heart." Elizabeth Andrew

When we work long hours, week after week, year after year, there is often little energy left to volunteer your skills and time to your favorite cause or charity. Some of us have stretched ourselves pretty thin while working, going to school and raising a family. After feeling exhausted and depleted, we don't have much energy left to volunteer. Consequently, many of us do the next easiest thing, which is to donate money, and there's nothing wrong with that.

While I was working hard building my therapy practice, the only volunteering I did was donating blood every several months. I did some casual volunteering here and there, but it wasn't consistent. I raised money, participated in walks for various causes and supported my friends and neighbors in their charitable pursuits. That has changed in the last several years as a result of making a concerted effort to give back. I have accomplished this by joining a local Rotary group, where there are numerous opportunities to volunteer my time, skills, and energy throughout the year.

I've heard many pre-retirees and those recently retired say that they've "been there, done that and now I just want to rest." Great! Go ahead and do that for a while. However, many of you will eventually catch up on your rest, organize your house and meet up with friends before you begin to wonder-"What else is there for me to do with these 20 to 30 bonus years?" Retirement, whether it's part-time or full-time, provides the extra time to give of your talents and skills to others less fortunate.

The Boomerang Effect of Volunteering

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others." M.K. Gandhi

No matter what stage of life we are in, volunteering has benefits that have been tested and researched by many. Researchers at the University of Michigan studied a group of adult men and found that those who volunteered their time, skills and money were happier, more positive about their life and outlived their peers who weren't so altruistic. As we give of ourselves, we often receive more than we give. We find ourselves enjoying a more positive attitude along with greater feelings of satisfaction. Many have reported re-experiencing the same positive feelings by just remembering their volunteer experiences.

Sonya Lyubomirsky, researcher, Professor of Psychology at the University of California--Riverside, and author of The How of Happiness has found that helping others may build more appreciation for our communities and neighborhoods. Service to others also creates feelings of appreciation and gratitude for what we have when we see those less fortunate than we are. We also have the opportunity to model for our peers as well as our adult children and grandchildren the art of volunteering.

Many who have retired and begun volunteering have found that this experience provides some of the same benefits that work provided. People say that they derive meaning and purpose from activities that help others live better lives. Volunteering gives structure to the day and gives people an opportunity to connect socially with other volunteers as well as those that they are helping. Altruism can be very gratifying and helps make the world a better place.

By assessing your skills, strengths, interests and passions, you may find a volunteer organization that is a good fit for you. Decide if you want to volunteer for a large or small organization, how involved you want to be, and how long you want to commit. Volunteering can also help you discover a new career path during your retirement transition. Many have turned volunteering into a paying job or created a nonprofit business from their volunteer experience.

Where Do You Want To Put Your Energy?

When choosing where, when and how you want to volunteer, take into consideration the following suggestions:

1. Do what

• You feel passionate about

• Gives meaning to your life

• Can become part of your legacy.

2. Explore your current skills and think about learning new skills if necessary.

3. Find one volunteer activity that you can do with your life partner to make your relationship more interesting as well as create more social contacts.

4. Be open to a volunteer activity becoming a paying position if the opportunity arises.

5. If you have physical limitations, consider volunteering online by exploring the United Nations Volunteers program at onlinevolunteering.org.

6. Get more ideas at Volunteer Match, Experience Corps, Hands On Network, Civic Ventures The Next Chapter, Volunteer.gov, Operation Hope, BoardnetUSA, and Idealist.

Remember, giving of yourself to those in need will help you make the best of your life for the rest of your life.

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